A movement that wants to disassociate from the federal government and form a sovereign state built on Christian principles is focusing efforts on a South Carolina county the next two years.

Christian conservatives have tried for more than 20 years to reform America at the national level and failed, ChristianExodus.org founder Cory Burnell says in a video linked from the group’s Web site. His solution is local and state governments refusing to obey edicts by the federal government the group believes are unconstitutional and, if necessary, to peacefully secede from the United States.

The strategy employed by Religious Right groups like the Christian Coalition, of which Burnell says he is a former member, has been to send more Republicans to Washington. That strategy, Burnell said, has failed. Instead of achieving goals, he said, conservative Christians have seen their rights further eroded by federal courts and legislation.

“We believe the correct strategy to employ is for Christians to take back local governments, counties and states and to put men in office like Judge Roy Moore in Alabama, elected officials who will refuse to obey tyrannical orders, court orders, tyrannical legislation out of Washington, D.C.,” he said in the video.

Burnell said there are millions of what he calls “Christian constitutionalists”–or “paleo-conservatives” as opposed to neo-conservatives–who believe the federal government routinely acts in ways that exceed its constitutional authority.

His goal is to move enough of them to selected counties in South Carolina–targeted because they are already strongly conservative–to tilt elections toward candidates who share his views.

Burnell believes relocation of as few as 100 dedicated Christian activists to a particular community, when combined with the present Christian electorate, will enable “constitutionalists” to win city councils, county councils, elected law enforcement positions and elected judgeships.

Christian Exodus recently endorsed the election of a staunchly conservative county council member in Anderson County, S.C., saying it shows “that God is already working in South Carolina to preserve a witness to the truth in the face of encroaching tyranny.”

The new council member, 59-year-old Ron Wilson, under fire from the Southern Poverty Law Center for his relationship with racists and extremists during his past leadership of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, distanced himself from Christian Exodus after his election.

Rick Adkins, chairman of the Anderson County Republican Party, told the local newspaper he could easily see the group taking a county council seat in two years. He said any large group, whether it’s a political organization or a major employer, can quickly become a major player in local politics, because so few people vote.

“If they move 1,400 people to AndersonCounty, they would be a very big force in the elections, and they could take over a party very easily,” Adkins said in the Anderson Independent Mail.

Christian Exodus says it added 230 members in 2006, bringing total membership to more than 1,400. There are now more than 180 members in South Carolina. A total of 15 households have already moved to South Carolina. Nine of those moves occurred in 2006. Add to that families like one quoted in Burnell’s blog, who said they hadn’t heard of Christian Exodus before moving to Easley, S.C., but after learning about it on CNN were convinced it was the reason God had led them to relocate there from Florida.

The group is being met with suspicion by the religious community in Anderson County, located in upstate South Carolina midway between Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., along Interstate 85. Johnny McKinney, pastor of Boulevard Baptist Church in Anderson and a former member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Coordinating Council, said he doesn’t know anyone connected with the group, but his local minister’s alliance “has a great deal of concern about it.”

“Even Bob Jones University went on record as distancing themselves from the Exodus perspective,” McKinney said in an e-mail to EthicsDaily.com. “So I’m not sure how much traction they are going to muster.”

McKinney said the group had a meeting in a downtown Greenville hotel last year, hoping to attract hundreds. Only about 25-30 reportedly showed up. A friend of his, an Orthodox priest, tried to attend but was not allowed to enter.

Intermediate goals of Christian Exodus, according to the group’s Web site, include impacting statewide elections by 2014 and instituting constitutional reforms “returning proper autonomy to the State by 2018 regardless of illegal edicts from Washington, D.C.”

Christian Exodus defines itself as an organization of Christians “who no longer wish to live under the unjust usurpation of powers by the federal government, and therefore resolves to formally disassociate itself from this tyrannical authority, and return to the model of governance of a constitutional republic. We seek a republican government constrained by constitutionally delegated powers. If this cannot be achieved within the United States, then we believe a peaceful withdrawal from the union to be the last available remedy.”

The group says it would like to include many of its positions in a new constitution in South Carolina, such as banning abortion, recognizing the Ten Commandments as the foundation of law and prohibiting any redefinition of marriage.

Burnell said many people on hearing his ideas assume such a scenario would set up a violent conflict involving use of federal troops. He says that is nonsense, noting that former Justice Moore’s refusal to obey a court-ordered removal of a granite Ten Commandments monument from a state building led to debate over the role of government, not anarchy.

He says South Carolina can secure the rights of her citizens by interposing her authority under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which limits federal authority by stating: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved for the States respectively, or to the people.”

ChristianExodus.org holds that the 14th Amendment, which provides a broad definition of national citizenship by requiring states to provide equal protection under the law to all persons within their jurisdiction, was “enacted” and not properly ratified. They also say various states should repeal the 16th Amendment, which grants Congress the power to directly tax the people. “Direct taxation of the people is contrary to the original intent of the Union and deprives the States of a powerful check on federal excess,” says a position statement.

They prefer the “privatization” of education, either through private schools or homeschooling, but say if there is a public-school system, it should be locally funded and controlled.

The group says it promotes religious freedom for all faiths. “The goal of Christian Exodus is not to suppress the religious beliefs of others, but simply to put our own into practice,” according to an FAQ page on the Web site.

They say they do not tolerate racial discrimination, but rather will “work to ensure equal access to and treatment before the law for all God’s people irrespective of color or national origin.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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